It seems to me Antec has been building cases, well, forever now. Being a user of the original 900 was where I got my feet wet with Antec and until I started here, that was all I had to go on. Well, time moves on and cases got released. I have been graced with quite a few unique and stylish designs over the last year or two. Something I grew to love with most, if not all of the samples I have seen, was the way Antec thought out of the box with the Skeleton series and the air flow that seem synonymous with the Antec name.
One thing that went with the previous samples air flow was a fair bit of noise and Chris Ram actually referred to my 900 as a vacuum cleaner when I booted it at his house, just to prove my point. With the Sonata line, Antec is taking a slightly different approach to the design. Sticking with things like maximizing motherboard compatibility, air filters and subtle styling, Antec is staying true to what we all love and know. Antec threw me a curve ball when I see they list this Proto as being the ideal combination of affordability, efficiency and silence. That's right, I said silence and Antec in the same sentence. It's a slight shock to me as well.
From what I know of mid towers, cooling can become an issue fast, especially if you plan to build what I like to refer to as a sleeper. You know, the guy that shows up with the smallest case at a LAN and has the "leetist" gaming hardware inside. Here is to hoping that Antec didn't take a leap in the wrong direction, offering "silence" in a mid tower PC at the expense of airflow. Offering the ability to house a full motherboard and room for SLI or Crossfire to be installed, I hope it can keep up with the demands asked. Come and have a look with me as I get the camera ready and run through what Antec offers in the Sonata Proto.
Specifications, Availability and PricingSpecifications, Availability and Pricing
The Sonata Proto is a cold rolled, steel, mid tower chassis that uses plastic for the front bezel. The outside is painted in a textured black finish, while the inside is left exposed. In the front there is room for up to nine drives in total; three external 5.25" bays, two external 3.5" bays and room for four 3.5" hard drives. The chassis uses a top mounted power supply and offers room for m-ITX, m-ATX and ATX motherboards. Spinning around to the back, the Proto has seven expansion slots, so multiple GPU setups will not be an issue even with a soundcard, or NIC if you still use one.
One of the main features of the Sonata Proto is its silence. Antec ships the case with only one fan in place. That is the 120mm TwoCool, switchable, two speed fan. There is not a fan in the front of the chassis acting as an intake, nor is there room for them, but Antec offers a well ventilated front panel and a removable dust filter in place. Silence is achieved, but you have to depend on the 120mm fan and your power supply fan to extinguish any internal heat.
With the efficiency of the layout and air flow and the silence provided from using the one fan, that leaves us with the affordability factor. Looking at Google shopping tells me that this version of the Sonata lineup isn't that easy to obtain currently, but if you look hard enough, the Proto can be found. I was able to locate it at Newegg for $69.99 plus shipping. Total out of the warehouse and to your door will end up running you about $85 USD.
Let's see what's inside and if Antec has the mid tower case to buy in the Sonata Proto.
Antec ships the Sonata in an all white box with very little to say aside from the SSD compatibility and the silent factor of the chassis. They let the image of the case in a reflecting pool do all the talking necessary.
"Join the Legend, live the dream" is the mission statement placed here with a description of what all that means. Under the multi-lingual text, we get yet another image of the Proto.
The three key features of the design are listed at the top. Just below is where Antec lists the features, specifications and an internal image of the chassis on the back side.
This last panel explains what you will find inside the box. This covers the front I/O, the included fan and what should be included in the hardware kit.
Antec chose the more durable, high density foam end caps to protect the Sonata Proto during transit. As usual, there is the plastic liner to keep minor scratches and fingerprints at bay.
The Antec Sonata Proto Mid Tower CaseThe Antec Sonata Proto Mid Tower Case
One thing not mentioned in any detail is the security of this chassis. The front is separated into two halves. The top is a lockable cover to protect your optical and possibly floppy drives from "sticky fingers". The bottom half is used to hold the front I/O panel and the sides are well vented to allow for a good amount of air to be drawn in.
The front I/O comes with two USB 2.0 connections on the left, power and HDD activity lights, then there are the 3.5mm jacks for audio.
There is no window in the Proto. What you will find is a handle that offers another lock to protect the rest of your system as well. This is perfect for a LAN option, or even if you live in a dorm with many people in and out. At least they have to take the whole thing if they want in.
Around the back you see the metal as it will be on the inside, to show the paint doesn't go all the way around. All the basics are here; power supply hole at the top, rear I/O area, 120mm exhaust fan and seven expansion slots next to a ventilated area. Notice that there are only two thumbscrews! The left panel, as seen here, is riveted to the rest of the chassis and does not come off.
Not much to see here but a solid steel panel painted just like the rest of the exterior.
Under the chassis you will find basically a completely flat floor. Worth mentioning are the adhesive rubber feet attached to keep the chassis in place and not damaging your desktop or hardwood floor.
Inside The Antec Sonata Proto Mid Tower CaseInside The Antec Sonata Proto Mid Tower Case
Inside of the door handle you can get a better idea of how it works. The handle needs pushed towards the front of the chassis to release, or pictured here, to the left. Simply turning the tumbler on the outside will drop the plastic lock on the left down to the right, effectively making the handle unusable.
Getting the door off gives us the first look inside of the Proto. The steel in here is coated in a chemical primer just like the back. Barely visible, behind the hard drive trays, the hardware box ids tucked for travel.
Since the rear panel is not removable, Antec thought this through and offset the drive cages. This will allow for wiring to be placed or hidden behind them. The three bays up top use tool-less rails, the floppy drive bays use a removable tray and the hard drive rack uses removable sleds. All of this makes assembly go real fast.
The motherboard tray is drilled to accommodate m-ITX, m-ATX and ATX motherboards. While they are not marked for specific boards, the risers are pretty self explanatory as to where they go.
I hid the wiring on the fan behind the case, but with this TwoCool fan, you will find a 4-pin Molex connector for power and another lead with a two position switch. The expansion slots at the bottom are all separated and not attached; simply remove the screw and the covers come right out.
The included, front I/O wiring is plenty long and will make getting them placed correctly and hidden with little effort, just a bit of thought and creativity.
Accessories and DocumentationAccessories and Documentation
In the little box you will find this hardware. Keys, a case badge and screws galore are all included.
This is one of the removable hard drive trays. They lock into place with the outer tabs for securing it in the chassis. The tray that supports the drive uses rubber grommets to isolate the drives from the case.
I used a 3.5" SATA drive to install with this build. With the grommets in the outer holes this is accomplished. If you plan to use 2.5" drives, move the grommets to the inside holes and mount the drive the same way.
The simplicity of the Proto really makes the instructions useless. With a bit of looking the front panel is easy to figure out how to remove and if you don't know where the wires go, well, you should probably call a friend over for help.
Included with my Proto was a bit of the literature for the Sonata III. This shows that the SSD needs to be mounted to the floor of the chassis. Disregard this for this model; I already showed you how to mount the smaller drives.
The Build and Finished ProductThe Build and Finished Product
Loading the Proto full of components was simple. Even with no rear access everything went smooth. The case badge fits nicely in the indentation on the door and adds the only flash you will see in the Sonata Proto.
Releasing six little tabs on the inside allows the front bezel to come off and out of the way. Worth a mention here, are the slides for the optical drives, hidden behind the covers in the bezel. Then there is the large intake filter placed on the front of the body. I assume the filter will work well over time, but it is a tight fit and I had issues getting my filter out. Sitting on the floor in the middle is the floppy drive rack with removable covers to secure those in the chassis.
I mounted the slides for the DVD drive as far forward as physically possible. Even so, you can see it leaves the drive protruding just a bit. Not a huge deal, because you can just close the door, but something I would prefer not to see at all.
Just about ready to show the guts, but I wanted a full shot to show you with the door open. Personally, with a left hand door for access, I would have loved it if the door on the front opened the other direction.
Things are tight in this mid tower if you want to use a full ATX motherboard. As you can see, I was able to install the large board and with a bit of fiddling, I was able to get the 9800 GTX+ in there, too. Notice the wires behind the bays, this is where you will have to run your extra wires if you have to hide them. With everything in place, the wiring is tidy and should allow for the best effects of the 120mm fan in the back.
One last look at the back with everything installed, before I power her up and do a bit of testing.
Powered up in all her glory! Aside from the case badge, you do get two tiny blue LEDs to show both the Power status and the hard drive activity light, which here isn't active. Sleek, simple and secure!
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
Antec did a very nice job in the building and designing of the Sonata Proto. While I haven't had any others from the Sonata series to compare this to, I have a bunch of economically minded chassis' to use for head to head comparisons. For instance, the USP 100 from Cooler Master, which I just reviewed recently, seems like a fair one to throw at the Antec for this. What's good in the Proto? Surprisingly, the temperatures! Even though there is little supplied in the way of cooling, for what is there, it works really well in this chassis. Once I ran some longer tests, though, the heat did start to overwhelm the fan a bit. The simplicity of the build process is also a huge plus and leaving room inside to hide wiring and leave an attractive completed product didn't seem possible at first, but as you can see by the images, it does exactly that. Oh, and we can't forget that the Proto is very secure when locked up tight.
Things I didn't really care for much? Well, first there is the door panel, which is "sticky" and tough to release. Moving forward, the optical drive didn't install quite right and I felt the door swung the wrong way. Cooling, or the lack there of, is a concern. Even though Antec offers a TwoCool Fan in the back, there aren't any options for more; none! That to me will make most builders move on to the next chassis in the lineup. Using again the USP to compare against, they are roughly the same price, but with the USP you still have options and a free power supply.
That doesn't seem to be the case here. Antec does offer a creative solution that will give you near silent operation, security and easy to use design along with a sleek front, but that is where it ends. To be rather blunt, this is a black mid tower with some tool-less features and a fan. No more, no less. While cheap cases are exactly that, I have been seeing a trend to the mid towers lately, and that is prices dropping considerably. I find it surprising to say, that for around $100, if you do some research, this can offer you plenty of very nice chassis' out there. Pricing on the Sonata Proto is pretty level no matter where I looked and Newegg's price of $69.99 plus shipping is a little rich for what I see here. I think your money could be spent a bit wiser.
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